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 Banner Renews Request for Records

August 15, 2007 - Two years after The Banner first asked officials in the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation what it believed to be reasonable questions about the CAB cafeteria program's finances, the newspaper is still waiting for answers.

While reviewing CAB's monthly cafeteria reports during the early summer of 2005, The Banner noted what appeared to be a discrepancy of more than $50,000 between the ending monthly balance on the March 2005 report (-$35,027.38) and the ending balance for March that was listed on the April 2005 report ($28,267.47). In a letter sent July 21, 2005, to CAB's superintendent at that time, Hal Jester, the school board and their attorney, The Banner asked for an explanation for the discrepancy, as well as a few other questions about the cafeteria program.

The Banner never received a response from Jester, the school board or their attorney to any of the questions asked in the July 21 letter. However, The Banner eventually learned that someone did likely provide school board members with answers or information related to at least some of the newspaper's questions.

Attached to a memo Jester sent school board members in late July 2005 was a copy of The Banner's July 21 letter. When the newspaper obtained a copy of this memo and the attached letter from CAB through a record request a couple of months later, however, substantial portions of the letter, where it appeared Jester or someone else had responded to some of The Banner's questions about the cafeteria program, had been redacted, or blacked out.

Not long after David McGuire took over as CAB's new superintendent in July 2006, The Banner filed a follow-up record request seeking an uncensored copy of its July 21, 2005, letter that had been attached to Jester's memo to the school board. McGuire declined to provide the record, relying on CAB's prior denial when Jester was still superintendent.

Now, with McGuire gone and a new interim superintendent in place, The Banner has decided to try a third time to get responses to its unanswered questions about CAB's cafeteria program. During a meeting last Friday with interim Superintendent Ray Pavy and Jena Schmidt, Pavy's assistant and CAB's public access officer, The Banner submitted a record request seeking, among other things, an uncensored copy of the July 21, 2005, letter attached to Jester's memo to the board.

During last week's meeting, Schmidt remarked that CAB's attorney at the time The Banner had been given Jester's blacked out July 29, 2005, memo and the attached July 21 letter had already reviewed this matter.

The Banner explained to both Schmidt and Pavy that even if the redactions had been proper - a point the newspaper has not conceded - they had not been mandatory, and it would be within the school corporation's discretion to release uncensored copies of the documents.

The Banner's new record request also seeks unredacted copies of three other documents Jester sent to school board members. In his July 8, 2005, memo to the school board, Jester complained that The Banner's news coverage regarding a recent audit of CAB had been "tilted and not completely accurate." He told the board he would "provide more details/comments on this situation" in his next memo to them. When The Banner obtained a copy of the memo in which Jester was supposed to address this matter, however, nearly the entire first page was blacked out, depriving The Banner of the opportunity to learn in what ways Jester believed the newspaper's reporting had been errant.

The Banner's latest record request also asks for an uncensored version of a document that the Department of Local Government Finance sent CAB during the summer of 2004 with respect to a request for an "excessive levy appeal." A copy provided to The Banner in 2005 was completely blacked out. The final document that The Banner has asked for an unredacted copy of is a "Special Board Memo" that Jester sent board members on February 26, 2004. A copy The Banner obtained from CAB in 2005 was, with the exception of the heading, blacked out in its entirety.

Even if CAB were to decide to provide unredacted copies of these materials, Schmidt told The Banner during Friday's meeting that she was not sure if there were copies of the documents at the central office. She said she would have to check with school board members who received these public records from Jester to see if they still have copies. As for whether copies of Jester's memos had been retained at CAB's central office, Schmidt said she could not say until old records that have been boxed up have been gone through.

During last week's meeting with Pavy and Schmidt, The Banner also attempted to learn more about CAB's e-mail system. In particular, the newspaper requested information about any backup system that might exist for CAB's e-mails, whether an outside server is used, and the make and model of any equipment CAB uses if it maintains its owner e-mail server.

Earlier this year, The Banner requested certain e-mails sent to or from former Business Manager Amanda Zurwell, but was told that a technology upgrade resulted in the loss of her e-mail account. After The Banner filed a complaint with the state's public access counselor, CAB also claimed that the e-mail accounts of two other former employees, a payroll clerk and the corporation's treasurer, had been deleted. While Schmidt and Pavy had no definite answers about CAB's e-mail system on Friday, Schmidt did say that she thought CAB currently has no backup system for its e-mails. She also said that she believed CAB did not use an outside server for its e-mail services, but handled this within the school corporation. She said she would check with Bruce Sowers, CAB's technology director, for answers to The Banner's questions.

Believing there is currently no backup system for CAB's e-mails, Schmidt did tell The Banner that employees have been instructed not to delete any e-mail that constitutes a public record. She said the determination of what is or is not a public record - defined by the state's Access to Public Records Act as "any writing, paper, report, study, map, photograph, book, card, tape recording, or other material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency and which is generated on paper, paper substitutes, photographic media, chemically based media, magnetic or machine readable media, electronically stored data, or any other material, regardless of form or characteristics" - is being left to individual employees.

 

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